Orecchiette, “little ears”, is a specialty pasta found in Puglia. Its name is derived from (yep, you guessed it) the fact that the shape resembles little ears:
orecchio = ear + ette = little => orecchiette
Orecchiette dough is made only from flour (which should be farina di grano, a durum flour), water, and a little salt. No, I didn’t forget the eggs, there are no eggs in orecchiette dough.
First, the flour is made into a “crater” shape and then you make a hole with your fingers for the water. Slowly add the tepid water and mix with your fingers until you have something you can knead.
Oh, but there is a secret ingredient…love! Si, when you work the dough it is critically important that you do so with loving hands. (That’s so wonderfully Italian, isn’t it?)
Now it’s hands on! Knead, knead, knead…working the dough is definitely a learned art and best learned from a local Mamma. Too sticky? Add a little more flour. Too flaky? Add a little more water. And maybe a little more love? Practice and the hands of experience will know when it’s the perfect consistency and…
After letting the covered dough rest for 15 minutes (and you may need a rest as well!), take chunks of dough and roll into long thin “snakes” on a floured board. Then, all you need is a dull knife and your thumb to make the ears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And in expert hands, it is!
After cutting small (approximately 1/2” wide) pieces from the snake, use the blade edge of the knife to gently press and start to shape each ear. It requires the perfect amount of pressure to make the orecchietta which resembles a small cup. Then, gently “fold” it back over your thumb to get that distinctive “ear”-shape…
Allora, let’s try this again… (And, by the way, it’s it’s okay if your orecchiette aren’t identical!)
Almost every pasta course in Puglia will be orecchiette although different areas specialize in different sizes. In Lecce and the Salento the ears will be large while in the Bari area they will be small. I’m not sure if this is indicative of anything but, in any case, orecchiette with their little hollows are perfect for scooping a variety of sauces and toppings.
Although I have to admit to being all thumbs at making orecchiette, it’s great fun to try (especially with friends)!
Besides, large, small or misshapen, they all taste delicious!
Ricette (Recipe) for those who want to try their hand at orecchiette:
1 lb (450 grams) durum wheat flour
200 ml tepid water (room temperature)
pinch of salt